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Lufia: The Legend Returns (Game Boy Color) artwork

Lufia: The Legend Returns (Game Boy Color) review


"Anyhow, not only is the Ancient Cave back in this game, but with twice the number of floors (because, you know, measly 100-floor dungeons are for wimps) AND every single dungeon in the game takes its cue from this place. Yes, they all are multi-floor extravaganzas where everything seems randomly created. This makes things boring. You have no puzzles (unless you consider "striking things on walls to see if that opens up a corridor" to be one) or anything to detract from the tedium. All you do is walk through each floor, avoiding traps, killing monsters and collecting treasures...and then do the same on the next floor and the next until you've completed the dungeon. Then you go to the next town, find out about the next dungeon and do the same there."



Each of the four Lufia games (not counting the DS pseudo-remake of the second one) can easily be placed in a nice, neat category. Lufia and the Fortress of Doom was the humble beginnings of the series. A competent SNES RPG that developed slowly and required a fair bit of level-grinding.

Shortly after on the same system, we got Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals. This prequel was the avatar of the series -- one of the better games of the 16-bit era that was excellent until the end when the fun and challenging puzzle-heavy dungeons suddenly were replaced by a handful of simple ones that anyone could breeze through. Talk about anti-climactic. Apparently, developers Neverland had a deadline to meet or were running out of funding.

Briefly skipping our main topic of conversation, the series (so far) concluded with the GBA's Lufia: The Ruins of Lore, which feels like part of the series in name only. The seemingly eternal conflict with the Sinistrals doesn't come into play and other than the character Dekar and the optional Ancient Dungeon, there is little to really connect it to the other three games.

This brings us to the third game: the Game Boy Color's Lufia: The Legend Returns. It's not the humble beginnings, the avatar or the sequel in name only -- it's the bland and unnecessary one. Very little new ground is broken, making this game the most tedious of Lufia experiences.

Let us remember the Ancient Cave of Rise of the Sinistrals. It was a vast dungeon with randomly-generated floors that could be considered a game-within-a-game. It was Lufia colliding with Rogue in the same way peanut butter combines with chocolate to make a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Your party would start at level one, regardless of their current status, and have no equipment aside from a handful of potions and special goods found in the cave's blue treasure chests. Making this place a desirable locale to visit was the fact that some of the best equipment in the game could only be found in those blue treasure chests. Also, it was easily the biggest challenge in the game. I never made it to the bottom, as my best run ended deep in the cave when I started running into regular encounters so powerful they weren't even used in the main game! Those cursed Archfiends...

I digress. Anyhow, not only is the Ancient Cave back in this game, but with twice the number of floors (because, you know, measly 100-floor dungeons are for wimps) AND every single dungeon in the game takes its cue from this place. Yes, they all are multi-floor extravaganzas where everything seems randomly created. This makes things boring. You have no puzzles (unless you consider "striking things on walls to see if that opens up a corridor" to be one) or anything to detract from the tedium. All you do is walk through each floor, avoiding traps, killing monsters and collecting treasures...and then do the same on the next floor and the next until you've completed the dungeon. Then you go to the next town, find out about the next dungeon and do the same there. Every floor of every dungeon is essentially the same (a simple layout littered with corridors and a few rooms), with the only differences being the background graphics and the monsters present. It doesn't take long for the formula to get old.

The same could be said about the overall plot. You start out being menaced by the first Sinistral, Gades...just like in the first two games. Thick-headed hero Wain and wandering adventurer Seena chase him around, gradually finding new allies. Put him down and Amon enters the fray with his own blend of chaos to spread. And then Daos. Of course, reluctant evil-doer Erim also is around to complete the quartet. At times, this game feels like a low-budget version of Rise of the Sinistrals, as the baddies get introduced one-by-one in the same manner, while you take out lesser villains in between each Sinistral conflict...but without the fun, puzzle-filled dungeons to keep your interest.

The Legend Returns wasn't content to just be a second-rate imitation of its predecessor, though. While you only had four characters in your party at a time in that game, you can (eventually) use a whopping NINE of 12 characters at once here. You just keep collecting them and collecting them and plugging them into your line-up. Three characters in the front row, three in the middle and three in the back. This leads us to the part of this review I DREAD writing. Playing through the game, I found the battle system to be a bit complicated, but nothing too bad. Putting it into words so someone else might understand what's going on, though...a completely different story.

Okay, during a fight, you can only use three of your nine characters -- one per vertical row. Front row characters give the most damage, but take the most. Characters farther back are better off defensively, but won't deliver the same damage. If the three guys at the front of each row get killed, it's "game over", even if the others are still alive (so much for teamwork). If you get caught by surprise, your rows will be mixed around, so those frail back-row mage-types might be absorbing sledgehammer-like blows they aren't really designed to handle.

That's The Legend Returns 101 -- things get more complicated now. Each character has one of four colors attached to him or her. These determine which special (IP) abilities they can learn (as opposed to Rise of the Sinistrals where their current equipment determined them). If you put, say, a red character on the same line as a blue and a green, you'd get points in all three colors after battles. As you find scrolls with IP abilities, you can then spend your color points to learn them and use them in battle. This puts a good bit of strategy into organizing your characters, as these abilities tend to require multiple color points to learn, so you'll want a character in a position where he can get two or three different kinds of color points per turn. On the other hand, characters can get attribute bonuses by being placed next to those of similar colors, so if you're not looking to learn a specific IP ability, you might want to do this in order to maximize everyone's fighting prowess.

I will admit that while, in print, this all seems like a great way to induce a good migraine, after a bit of practice, it does become a pretty neat and strategic system. One thing that's a big help is how Wain and Seena get new allies at a slow enough pace that you can gradually work your way into the more complex aspects of things. Early on, you'll be easing into things when you get that fourth party member and have to use a second row. A little bit later, you'll be juggling seven or so characters through three rows wondering why I made things sound so complicated.

So, I do give The Legend Returns kudos for adding the element of strategy to its battle system. It does make fighting more strategic (especially against bosses, some of which can be quite brutal) and can detract from how mundane the dungeons are. The number of characters detracts from other aspects of the game, though. When you have this large of a cast, it seems like many of your party members have one moment to shine in the plot before being little more than an additional hand in battle -- making this game feel like a collection of individual episodes loosely connected by the threat of the Sinistrals.

Like I said, this game feels unnecessary. It provides a solid battle system, but the rest seems lazy. A lot of dungeons that (except for superficial things) are all the same with a plot that comes off like someone said, "Let's re-do Rise of the Sinistrals...but with a few changes." No offense, but I'd rather stick with the superior prototype.

Rating: 3/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 24, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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CoarseDragon posted March 24, 2011:

I don't remember this game myself so I guess I did not play all the Lufias. Here I thought I had played them all, unless this is the one where you could link the two GBAs together and play with a friend, but I don't think that was this one.

Very well writen but I wonder just how many floors are in the Acient Cave?
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overdrive posted March 25, 2011:

No, I've reviewed the GBA one also, and they are two different games. At least, you not hearing about it just reinforces the "unnecessary" bit!

RE: Ancient Dungeon. As I recall, it STARTS out with 100, but one of the wishes you can get from the Ancient Slime is for a larger dungeon, which expands it to 200.
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CoarseDragon posted March 25, 2011:

Thanks, I'll have to pick this up somewhere.

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